I love when parents appreciate what I do for their students. That said, I sometimes hear parents say that anyone can teach. This is a broad statement that does not factor in hundreds of variables they are likely unaware of. The biggest one to me is the ability to manage difficult students in the classroom.
In the ideal classroom, all students would follow all directions, work hard, get along with each other, and we would all have a happy and cheerful day. That is far from realistic as any teacher knows. One factor that can wreck a teacher’s desire to continuing teaching is having major behavioral problems. This can be one student or multiple students in a classroom.
I will discuss some things that have helped me in my own classroom with behavioral issues. As I teach first grade, this will mainly apply for K-2, but could be useful for teachers in general. These tips will not work on all students, as everyone is different, but it is a great place to start to have a safe classroom atmosphere.
Tip #1: Patience
Now it goes without saying that patience is required for being a teacher, but it is vital to manage difficult students. We are working with young children that are still developing. Many of these students are still confused and some may be acting out due to issues at home. The one place they need patience is at school.
If a student tells me they are not going to do their work, then I will calmly refer to our classroom guidelines we did as a class at the beginning of the year and let him or her know that they are not following our guidelines and it will result in a set of consequences that we also came up with as a class. I say it with no emotion. Just matter of fact. I give the student space to make their choice.
As much as we want to make decisions for our students due to having to hurry, having patience for students to make their own choices will gain their respect and trust you. Patience comes easy to some and hard for others, but it is something that is important when working with young children.
Tip #2: Student Ownership of Problem
There have been numerous times where a student is acting out, like shouting out or disturbing others. I will often pull those kids back and have a conversation with them after going through our guideline procedures. Sometimes the student will not tell you what is happening because they are not ready. I give them space and come back later to ask if they are ready.
It is important to hear them out and acknowledge their feelings. The key is to not shame them for their behavior, but to ask how you can help them fix the problem. It is on them to fix it, but as their teacher, it is important for them to know that you will be there to help them succeed.
Being a K-12 teacher, we do not just teach academics, we teach life skills as well. By having the student take ownership of their behavior with your assistance, it will build up their confidence and lessen behaviors. I have seen it numerous times in my own classroom, and it is so rewarding to see students proud of themselves for fixing it on their own.
Tip #3: Give Tasks To Help Manage Difficult Students
I will often give a difficult student little tasks they can do for me in the classroom. It can be as simple as emptying the trash, sharpening pencils, or plugging in the iPads to charge. There may be some tasks a student may not want to do, so I give them a choice if this happens of 2-3 things they can do. Once again, student choice gives ownership and more intrinsic motivation.
Often these tasks will give the student a sense of purpose in the classroom that may have been missing. This is also a great way to start to build a further positive relationship with the student, which leads me to…
Tip #4: Have Them Like You
I want you to think back to the teachers you liked back in school. How did they make you feel? Would you follow their directions? When I look back, I can think of only a couple of teachers I liked. I liked them because they treated me kindly, were patient, and empathetic.
It is easy to cave and to be angry or mad and yell at a student that is misbehaving. This will create a situation where the student is either scared of you and does not trust you or makes them feel you do not care about them, so who cares what you think or say.
Students are more likely to follow your directions if they like you. This does not mean to be their friend in an unprofessional way but showing those three things I mentioned above. Kindness, patience, and empathy. For the teachers that showed those three things to me, I would do anything they asked. I wanted to be on my best behavior for them. This is how you proactively prevent behaviors from even occurring.
You must show this to all your students, because if you snap on one student in the presence of others, students will assume that you do not like that student (based off your actions) and will not like him or her either. This can further behavior issues with the student. It can also lead to teasing from the other students.
Tip #5: Ask For Help To Manage Difficult Students
If a student is still having problems in your classroom and nothing is working, it is important to ask for help. There may be factors at home or outside of school that you have no control over that is causing the student to misbehave. It is important to involve parents and document all contact with them and what was said. Even better to have communication in written form.
A parent is more willing to try to help if you bring it up early on rather than wait until it gets to be a serious issue. Make sure you send positive message to the parent ahead of time though. If you are only sending negative issues, the parent may feel you have it out for their student. I go more into how to communicate with parents in this blog post.
Also involve your school’s support staff. A school social work or counselor. Some schools also have paras that work specifically to help with behaviors. Remember that asking for help is not admitting that you are a bad teacher. It is important to reach out for help, as these support staff have expertise we do not and their purpose is to help us and our students.
Working with behavior issues at school can be challenging and even keep us up at night. There are things we can do in our classroom to help alleviate and even prevent them. Some students do require additional assistance and it is important that we acknowledge this and seek help. Remember to document everything and show kindness, patience, and empathy.